Oldest human fossil outside Africa discovered in Israel

Posted January 28, 2018

The discovery-an upper jawbone or maxilla with intact teeth-was found at Misliya, a prehistoric cave on Mount Carmel in northern Israel, an important site for excavations of early human remains during the last century. Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University and his colleagues dated the fossil to between 177,000 and 194,000 years ago using three independent methods. A paper describing the findings was published in the journal Science.

"Now we finally have fossil evidence of this migration, in addition to inferences drawn from ancient DNA studies and archaeological sites", paleoanthropologist Rolf Quam of Binghamton University in NY, a co-author of the study published in the journal Science, said, referring to genetic research suggesting a migration from Africa at least 220,000 years ago and probably earlier.

New dating of fossils from Israel indicates that our species (Homo sapiens) lived outside Africa around 185,000 years ago, some 80,000 years earlier than the previous evidence.

The earliest record of migration outside of Africa - the "cradle of humanity" - was at least 90,000 to 120,000 years ago, based on fossils discovered in the Skhul and Qafzeh caves in Israel near the Mediterranean Sea almost 90 years ago.

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The new scientific dating evidence raises the possibility that modern humans interacted with other, now extinct, species of humans for tens of thousands of years. "We evolved through interaction with other hominin groups".

"Our species", Hershkovitz added, "is a genetic mishmash of several hominins". The Moroccan fossils, along with somewhat younger finds at the Ethiopian sites Herto and Omo Kibish, crushed the old school notion that our species emerged only in the last 200,000 years. The nearby site of Tabun, for example, is home to Levallois tools dated to between 190,000 and 260,000 years ago, though no modern human fossils have been found associated with the items to date.

"It provides the clearest evidence yet that our ancestors first migrated out of Africa much earlier than we previously believed", Quam, who is based at Binghamton University, said.

A great deal has happened in recent history that changes everything we thought we knew about the dawn of our species.

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The find was made at Misliya Cave, on the western slopes of Mount Carmel, and about 12 kilometers south of Haifa.

According to Hershkovitz, these features make this find the oldest known anatomically modern humans (compared to more primitive Homo sapiens fossils found in Africa that retain archaic characteristics). DNA evidence shows interbreeding with the Neanderthals and the Denisovans, and the Denisovans likely mated with an ancient human ancestor-possibly Homo erectus, though its DNA has never been sequenced.

However, early humans history and their evolution trend are far from being complete, as many gaps are yet to be completed.

Researchers carried out a detailed analysis to confirm that the shape of the teeth and jaw are those of a modern human and not a Neanderthal, says Grün.

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Stone tools excavated near Misliya-1 are shaped in a sophisticated way, called the Levallois technique. The work puts our ancestors' initial trek out of Africa even earlier in human history, pushing it back by more than 40,000 years, according to an worldwide team of researchers. Perhaps H. sapiens evolved out of ancestral human populations that inhabited this larger region encompassing Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. "It's a collapsed cave, but people lived there before it collapsed".